Hot topic: Businesses using spyware to monitor productivity, part two

Barclays bank found itself at the centre of a ‘Big Brother’ debate when it announced it would be installing software on its London based employees’ computers that would monitor productivity in real time.

It has since decided to not go ahead with the performance monitoring system, but the discussion around employee ‘spyware’ still remains.

Questions around employee wellbeing and privacy, as well as the overall ethics surrounding this type of employee performance monitoring, all need to be addressed.

Could real-time Big Brother-style employee monitoring be the future of people management? Or is it just an intrusive and inappropriate form of watching our workers?

Bryce Davies, general manager UK at Workforce

“As we have seen from Barclays, forcing HR software on a workforce, especially technology that is seen to be ‘spying’ on them, causes not only issues ‘in-house’ but also huge damage to corporate reputation.

"At a time when employees have more of a voice and access to the media than ever before, carefully managing the roll-out of technology has to be considered from a reputational perspective too.

“The way we work and engage in a workplace is changing at a rapid pace. Flexible and remote working is becoming the norm, sitting at desks from 9am till 5.30pm is a thing of the past.

"Those companies that remained fixated with outdated methods of working, whilst enforcing the workforce to comply with such an approach, will continue to struggle to maintain a happy team. Organisations that introduce technology that helps employees, makes their working life easier and more efficient, whilst providing managers insight into where change might be needed are certainly on the right track.

"HR software should be introduced to provide support for employees and for positive reasons, not as a disciplinary tool. By introducing software for the wrong reasons companies are not going to get buy-in from employees and therefore are unlikely to get an accurate picture of workforce performance.”

Toni Vitale, partner and head of data protection, at JMW Solicitors

“It is not unusual for laptops, phones, security/ID passes, vehicles and other mobile tech to generate significant personal data on employees, including location, hours worked, communications, activity levels and even sleep quality. This data collection is often less obvious to employees.

As agile working blurs the boundaries between work and home, mobile tech may also record data on employees’ domestic lives. Given the obvious privacy issues involved, employers need to consider laws on data protection, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018.

"GDPR applies to any processing of personal data and collecting employee personal data from their mobile tech will typically be covered – even if the data is inadvertently collected or is a by-product of its workplace use. Employers must have a valid lawful basis in order to process personal data from mobile tech.

"Only the minimum amount of data necessary to achieve the relevant purpose can be collected. Employers cannot generally rely on employee consent, so they have to apply another permitted legal basis and the processing must be necessary that reason. Lawful reasons include, the performance of a contract with the individual, compliance with a legal obligation and the legitimate interests of the employer (or third party).”

Read the first part of this hot topic here.